Pastor chats with pastoral associate in the parish office. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

‘Great Resignation’ and the Church

When the pastor steps in and handles vacant parish jobs

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Father CarrionIf the teenager does not show up for his/her shift at McDonald’s, someone else has to flip those burgers and fry the fries, because burgers do not flip or fry themselves. Moreover, the staff that showed up might be checking sodas lines and prepping the kitchen while customers are arriving. So, now, the manager must don an apron and hairnet, flip burgers and sweat over the deep fryer.

Luggage may fly all around the world, but it does not fly into or out of the plane on its own. It sits on the tarmac whether it is coming or going. Then the CEO rolls up his or her sleeves and starts lugging the luggage no matter how much personal “baggage” they have, believing this is all very beneath them.

The “great resignation” these last few years has influenced the workforce, and the Church is not exempt from its effects. Along with constant gossip at deanery meetings where two or three priests are gathered, there is the bemoaning that, “I can’t find a bookkeeper or receptionist or youth minister, etc.” Whether it is a pastoral or support staff position, it is a worker’s market. The Church is divinely instituted, but it is deeply human in its day-to-day functioning. There are more jobs than people. So, like the McDonald’s manager or the CLO (chief luggage officer), Father has to loosen the cincture and pull the tab out of the collar and pay the bills, format the bulletin and sort textbooks as hundreds of kids are arriving for religious education.

My parish staff knows that I do not hire quickly. Like any philosophy, this approach is a blessing and a curse. That McDonald’s franchise owner and the sweaty CEO learned a lot that day. The boss in the reality TV show “Undercover Boss” learns more about the business when it is experienced from the ground up or from the front line.

Some of the best learning for a seminarian who is interning for the summer or a pastoral year is the act of sitting in various office chairs. When the receptionist (the first line of defense) is away for the Christmas holiday or a two-week summer vacation, tell him to clear his calendar and be the receptionist and/or the administrative assistant. He needs to be the one who answers Monday morning phone calls or the door when the family with out-of-state license plates rings the bell. He needs to listen as they beg help to buy the next tank of gas, which will get them to another parish office 225 miles away.

The best indoctrination, whether you are a pastor for the first time or a seasoned pastor assuming a new assignment, is to assign yourself as you did the intern. Just when you think you have heard it all or experienced it all, since it has been 10 years, 20 years, etc., there is always something new under the sun. Every parish is as different as they are the same.

My present parish has had several vacant positions for a while now. One blessing may be that you realize the position is not needed, or at least not on a full-time basis. Just because the parish had a (fill in the vacant position) does not mean the parish needs a (fill in the vacant position). My mantra recently, since I am now the “acting” director of religious education (the pastor is the DRE when there is none), is, “Why are we doing that?” Of course, the standard answer is, “We have always done it that way.”

An insight that often occurs, too, is the appreciation for the position and/or the person that filled it, since you are now sitting there. It is likened to the situation of decades ago (and still some today) when the working husband comes home and asks his homemaker wife, “Is that all you did today?” He won’t say that again once he has to stay home from work, chauffeuring, shopping, cleaning, calming the tantrums, fixing scraped knees and dinner as his wife is away for several days.

The curse of not filling the position sooner is that sometimes one waits too long and many potential applicants are taken already. While many months of a salary have been saved, it does come at the cost of what the pastor should be doing, which only he can do. It is a balancing act.

FATHER PATRICK M. CARRION is the pastor of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Ijamsville, Maryland, and the director of Cemetery Management for the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

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